Recycled Amusement: A Ugandan Playground of Water Bottles

Posted by Julie Ma

Ugandan eco-artist Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire doesn’t play around when it comes to play. The winner of TED’s first City 2.0 Award for 2012, a prize designed to encourage innovation in cities, is using part of his $10,000-prize to construct an amusement park for kids in Kampala’s slums built from thousands of reused plastic water bottles. The playground—which currently consists of a single airplane-shaped sculpture—will serve as a commentary on the trash problem afflicting the rapidly expanding cities of the developing world. But that’s tangential to the project’s central motivation: to create a safe space for Uganda’s poorest youth, many of whom are afflicted by the psychological burdens of war, poverty, and disease. 

"I shifted from doing artwork to just hang on walls, having little influence on society, to doing art that solves community needs," Tusingwire told TED. "It’s helped me realize my value to society." In addition to expanding the amusement park, he’ll use his prize money to help grow his local TEDx community and expand a loan program for female eco-artists that currently supports 15 women.

A graduate of and lecturer in the Department of Art & Design at Kampala’s Kyambogo University, Tusingwire was first introduced to eco-art as a student, when he and his peers would create original works from garbage. The current project, titled “Recycled Amusement” will pick up where he left off, albeit with a renewed social mission. Uganda’s children need all the help they can get. In addition to problems associated with ongoing ethnic conflict, crushing poverty and lack of accessible education, CNN reports that 3,000 children in Northern Uganda now suffer from a mysterious mental illness called “nodding disease” that leaves children with epileptic symptoms and lacks a known cure.

Tusignwire’s efforts to get the project off the ground will coincide with TEDxCity2.0 on October 13, 2012, dubbed “a day of inspiration” for TEDx communities to celebrate the work of “innovators and organizers, stewards and artists, builders and tastemakers.”

Photos courtesy of TED